2009 Nissan Maxima 3.5 SVPosted on May 12th, 2009
Nissan enhances performance on its popular luxury sedan
By Nina Russin
Nissan redesigned the mid-sized Maxima for 2009, shifting the sedan’s focus from luxury to sport. While the Maxima is known for supple performance, the new car is targeted more specifically to driving enthusiasts.
A revised V6 engine has 35 more horsepower than the block it replaces. A continuously variable transmission with sport mode provides powerful acceleration, while minimizing torque-steer on the front-wheel drive platform.
Engineers enhanced the car’s torsional rigidity with a standard strut brace and front and rear stabilizer bars. Aluminum suspension components minimize unsprung weight. Lower engine mounting and a wider track make the car more stable at speed.
All grades come with standard keyless entry and start, a moonroof, eight-way driver and four-way passenger power seats, dual-zone climate controls, steering wheel controls, power windows and door locks.
The test car is the upscale 3.5 SV. It adds leather upholstery, a Bose premium sound system, HomeLink transceiver, fog lamps and outside mirrors with turn signal indicators. MSRP is $31,990, not including a $660 destination charge.
As with prior models, the new Maxima looks and handles like a more expensive car than it is. While its exterior styling is more aggressive than in former iterations, Nissan’s sport sedan retains its elegant lines. In other words, it won’t look dated in five years.
The interior is spacious and attractive, with comfortable seating for four passengers. A pass-through extends the trunk floor for long items such as skis and golf bags. The trunk isn’t deep enough to hold a bicycle without a lot of wrangling, but the Maxima can function well for many types of active lifestyles.
The biggest challenge with front-wheel drive cars is their tendency to under-steer or push in the corners. While it’s relatively easy to bring the back end of a rear-wheel drive car under control when it fishtails, it’s a lot harder to regain control of a front-wheel drive car when it goes into under-steer. Part of the reason is that it’s counter-intuitive: the driver needs to lift off the throttle and straighten the steering wheel. In a moment of panic, that’s easier said than done.
Compounding the problem is the fact that both heavy drivetrain components, the engine and transaxle, are on one end of the chassis. An overzealous driver can find himself facing the wrong direction on a cloverleaf in a New York minute.
Nissan engineers set out to give the new Maxima usable power: minimizing torque steer through revised shift logic on the automatic transmission, a rear suspension design that minimizes camber change during cornering, and enhanced steering response.
While I didn’t have the chance to drive the sedan in wet weather, I did my best to push the performance envelope with a couple of acceleration and cornering tests. The chassis got a little jiggy during hard acceleration off the line, but quickly came under control. Taking a cloverleaf turn at much higher than normal speeds, all four wheels felt rock solid.
Powerful, fuel-efficient engine
Variable valve timing gives the Maxima’s V6 engine excellent power with no compromise in fuel economy. After 75 miles of driving, I still had 411 miles left of driving range according to the on-board fuel meter. If that’s true, my average fuel economy was just over 24 miles-per-gallon: two miles-per-gallon better than the EPA estimate. Nobody would accuse me of driving conservatively.
The continuously variable transmission can more closely match gears with engine load than a traditional set-up. The problem with CVTs is that they can also feel anemic. Engineers addressed this problem by adding a sport mode that maintains higher engine speeds, and adding a manual gear selection option. Even when driven conventionally, the sedan has plenty of power in 20-to-50 mile-per-hour acceleration.
Engineers enhanced the sedan’s torsional rigidity by reinforcing the structure behind the instrument panel, and making the front strut mounting more rigid. Standard front and rear stabilizer bars keep the chassis flat in the corners. A standard strut tower brace and wider track enhance steering response.
At speed, steering is extremely quick and precise. At the same time, there is plenty of assist for maneuvering through slow traffic.
Visibility is excellent all the way around the car. A wide rear glass minimizes blind spots to the rear.
Larger rear brakes give the new Maxima enhanced stopping power. All grades come with standard four-channel antilock braking.
The Maxima has a spacious, stylish interior, with the comfort and convenience features buyers expect in a luxury sedan. Engineers minimized noise intrusion by utilizing a new engine mounting system. I noticed no wind noise around the front glass or side mirrors.
Designers did a good job with the sedan’s interior ergonomics. All four seats seem to have good back support. I was quite comfortable in the driver’s seat on a drive of over two hours. A thigh extender on the driver’s seat is great for people who, like me, have long femurs. I found the dead pedal too far to the left to be comfortable.
The three-spoke steering wheel is the perfect size. Redundant audio controls and Bluetooth interface are easy to reach and intuitive to operate.
Gauges are attractive and easy to read. The shift lever is comfortable and positioned properly. Center stack controls are easy to reach from either front seating position. The car’s optional seat heater controls are on the center console. There are two bins in the center console: under the armrest, and a smaller bin ahead of it that includes a 12-volt power point.
A generous-size glovebox is large enough to hold a small purse or pack. All four passengers have access to cupholders: bottle holders are limited to the front doors.
Rear passengers in the outboard positions should have plenty of leg and hip room. A floor tunnel severely limits legroom in the center position.
The center seatback folds down to create an armrest with cupholders. Headroom may be short for taller passengers, due to the rake of the roof. A standard moonroof allows plenty of ambient light throughout the car.
The pass-through on the trunk gives the Maxima more versatility than the average sport sedan. The spare tire and jack are under the cargo floor.
All cars come with front, side and side curtain airbags, vehicle stability and traction control. Nissan builds the Maxima at its Smyrna, Tennessee assembly plant.
Likes: A well-equipped, versatile sport sedan with good fuel economy and excellent road manners.
Dislike: Floor and trunk mats are a $180 option.
Model: Maxima 3.5 SV
Base price: $31,990
As tested: $33,900
Horsepower: 290 Hp @ 6400 rpm
Torque: 261 lbs.-ft. @ 4400 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Fuel economy: 19/26 mpg city/highway
Comments: A pricing adjustment last fall raised the MSRP on the Maxima 3.5 SV to $32,860
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